Throughout the campaign, Donald Trump’s Twitter feed dominated much of the political discussion. Pundits spent hours debating the meaning of those 140 characters, and the Establishment from both parties used some of Trump’s more outrageous tweets to argue that he was unfit for the presidency. Trump’s supporters had a different view, though. They saw tweets poking fun at rivals, blasting the Obama administration (and Republican majority in Congress), and complaining about perceived unfair media coverage, as unfiltered views into the candidate’s thoughts. Those views revealed that Trump, like his supporters, was sick of a status quo that had left them behind and a PC culture that labeled any disagreement with policies espoused by the Left as intolerance rooted in racism, sexism, or homophobia.
Each tweet since the election seems to whip the mainstream media and insider political pundits into more and more of a frenzy. They vent that every tweet only confirms their assertion that Trump is unfit for the presidency, and continue to issue apocalyptic warnings that Trump’s temperament will lead to the fall of American democracy at home, and emboldened dictators and nuclear escalation abroad.
And therein lies the reason Trump’s tweets are so effective—they trick the mainstream media into revealing their hypocrisy to the American people.
In claiming that Trump will threaten American democracy and trample the Constitution, the mainstream media reminds the public that they praised (and encouraged) Obama’s plethora of executive orders that bypassed Congress, and then when those executive orders were declared unconstitutional, condemned the courts. When arguing that Trump will embolden dictators, the public is reminded how for weeks, the media peddled a lie that the Benghazi attack was caused by a video and how the Obama (and Clinton/Kerry) State Department botched the energy of the Arab Spring, refused to stand against the Russian invasion of Crimea, invited Putin into Syria (where he has propped up Assad), and most recently, sided with Hamas-backed Palestine at the United Nations over Israel, one of our closest allies and the only democracy in the Middle East. Finally, when asserting that Trump will lead America into nuclear war, the media reminds the public how they helped the Obama administration pull the wool over the eyes of the American people on the Iran deal—a deal which resulted in a $1.7 billion “debt and interest” payment to a theocratic, avowedly anti-American state who is now closer than ever to acquiring a nuclear weapon they have stated will be used to wipe Israel off the map. Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, even bragged to the New York Times about “creating an echo chamber” in the press so that “they were saying things [about the Iran deal] that validated what we had given them to say.”
Trump will (and should) continue to use his Twitter to communicate directly with the American people. This allows him to bypass the mainstream media, who do not even pretend to cover him fairly, and deliver his message directly to the public as he intends it. Until the press realizes this and returns to serving its intended function of providing the facts to the public rather than being the communications arm of the Democratic Party and coastal cultural elites, Americans of all political backgrounds who desire transparency in government should cheer Trump’s Twitter use. The Gallup Confidence in Institutions poll found that in June 2016, only 20% of Americans said they trusted newspapers, the lowest total in the poll’s history, which began in 1973. Only 21% of Americans trust TV news, the second lowest total in the polling which began in 1993. Trump would be foolish to trust the mainstream media to deliver his message—and Twitter provides the means of bypassing them.
Now, if Trump wants Twitter to be an effective communications tool, he needs to be more responsible with his Twitter usage after the inauguration, especially since he will take over the @POTUS twitter account and its 12 million followers (it’s going to be interesting to see if/how he merges it with his personal account and 17 million followers). If he continues to use Twitter as a means of launching late night personal attacks at those who disagree with his policies, he will find Twitter a much less effective tool at communicating directly with the American people. They will just tune out what he says, just as they’ve tuned out the mainstream media in the past decade due to the obvious bias the media displays toward liberal policies. Trump should base his Twitter strategy on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Fireside Chats” in the 1930s. Roosevelt used the new medium of radio as a means of taking his message to the American people directly to their homes. Roosevelt used radio to accomplish two goals. First he was able to reassure a population beaten down by the Great Depression that they could be hopeful again, and second, he was able to humanize himself to the American people. Despite being a wealthy New Yorker, he was successfully able to convince the public that he cared about them and was doing his best to help. Support for his policies skyrocketed, and he was able to pass his New Deal programs with strong public support.
The similarities between the two situations are striking. Like Roosevelt, Trump is a wealthy New Yorker who has harnessed a new medium of communication to convince the American public that he is the “blue collar billionaire.” Though a 140 character tweet does not have the eloquence of a Fireside Chat, Trump can use Twitter to reach out directly to the people, especially those who are wary of a Trump presidency. He can accomplish that through a responsible, consistent use of Twitter during his presidency, focused on tweeting about policy goals and how they will benefit Americans, touting successes (without rubbing them in opponents’ faces), and continuing to humanize himself with tweets about his personal life.
Twitter gives Trump a golden opportunity to have a direct line to the American people—he does not need to worry about the mainstream media distorting his message. How effectively he uses that opportunity will hinge on whether he can limit erratic and attacking tweets. If he can stick to a responsible Twitter strategy, like he did in the last month of the campaign, he increases his chances for policy success, because he can sell his policies and the rationale behind them directly to an American people willing to listen.
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